(April 16, 2017) Dr Jim McClure, renowned theologian, reminds us of the power of Resurrection Sunday …
He’s alive! He’s alive! He’s alive! This lay at the centre of the message of the early church. This was the passion burning in the hearts of the first Christians. When they met each other in the street, they didn’t say, ‘G’day’ or ‘Hello’ or ‘How are you?’ They said, ‘He is risen!’ To which was given the reply, ‘Indeed he is risen!’
Eight times in the book of Acts we read that God raised Jesus from the dead. And it was a central theme in Paul’s teaching. In fact he wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:14, ‘If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.’ And then in verse 20 he wrote, ‘But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead.’
I don’t think that today’s Christians have the same passion as those early Christians when we think of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It has become a doctrinal statement rather than a passionate, motivating conviction. But not so in the early centuries.
Oh, we still mention it and claim how wonderful it is, but often it just seems like an echo of the past. Do you remember the last time you were in an area, perhaps surrounded by mountains, and you decided to call out to hear the echo reverberating around you? The first echo that returns is quite loud, but succeeding ones get weaker and weaker. (Hello, Hello, Hello, Hello.)
On the first Easter Day the joyful proclamation, ‘He is risen’ – the proclamation that energised and enthused the early church to witness to its world of a living and loving Saviour – is but a faint echo in today’s secular world. Many people don’t even know what Easter is about. Some think of it just as a long weekend holiday, others associate with the footy, while others think that it all about chocolate eggs and bunnies.
We need to be captivated again, and excited again, and enthused again by the message of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and the assurance it gives. Let’s look at John’s account of this event in chapter 20 of his gospel.
1. The Presumption
The day of resurrection began like any other day. Verse 1 says. ‘Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance.’
Men, women and children in the land were awakening to a new day and a new week. But for the friends of Jesus it was, they thought, another day of mourning, another day of painful reflection, of hopes dashed, of promises broken and of dreams shattered.
The first verse in John 20 says that it was dark. John clearly uses the word dark not only to tell us the time of Mary’s visit to the tomb, but also to show the darkness in Mary’s feelings and her understanding. For her, everything was dark. Mary had been present at Jesus’ crucifixion and had seen him die. She had seen his body placed in the tomb. She had no doubt that Jesus was dead. So it with this frame of mind she went to the tomb on Sunday morning.
Seeing the empty tomb she ran to Peter and John and said, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!’ (V2). Notice this – Mary had made some presumptions –
- That Jesus’ body was not in the tomb because someone had taken it away, not that Jesus had left the tomb of his own accord.
- That Jesus was still dead, though he was alive!
- That that was the end of the story, when it was, in fact, only the beginning.
Because of her presumption, she responded to the discovery of the empty tomb with anguish rather than joy. Her interpretation of the empty tomb was, ‘His body has been removed’ rather than ‘His body has been raised.’ Mary had gone to Jesus’ grave possibly as an act of devotion to Jesus’ memory. The discovery of the empty tomb didn’t change that thinking. In fact it only added to her stress and brought her confusion and not clarity, despair rather than delight. Mary’s presumption was based on reason – when you’re dead you stay dead! And her logic blinded her to the promise Jesus had made that he would rise again on the third day.
In our Western world today, atheism is rapidly increasing. Consequently Christianity is often scorned as being illogical and irrelevant in a rational and scientific world. The secular worldview may presume that the message of the risen Christ is irrelevant, but it couldn’t be more wrong. With each passing day, in a broken, insecure, decadent, perverted, immoral, spiritually destitute and somewhat terrifying world, the need of the message of Jesus Christ, alive and triumphant, becomes more and more evident and urgent.
2. The Person
Verse 11 tells us that ‘Mary stood outside the tomb crying.’ Her grief was profound. She looked into the tomb and she saw two angels sitting where Jesus’ body had been. Apart from the fact of seeing two angels, there is nothing else sensational about the story. Mary, in her grief, clearly wasn’t distracted. She was exhausted by her misery. Even when Jesus appeared to her, she didn’t recognise him! She was the first person to witness the most wonderful thing in the history of the world – and she assumed she was talking to the gardener! In a most unremarkable and unspectacular way the risen Christ appeared to her.
Can you imagine how Hollywood would have orchestrated the event? Movie makers would have had Jesus, in a blaze of brilliant light emerge dramatically from the tomb to the accompaniment of myriads of angels and loud dramatic music. But that’s not how it happened. John writes, ‘She turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realise that it was Jesus. “Woman,” he said, “why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him”’ (John 20:14-1).
The focus was not on a sensational performance but on an incomparable person. The real message of Easter day is not that Jesus burst from the tomb in a spectacular way but that Jesus arose, according to his promise, to be the Saviour of the world. If Mary had experienced a spiritual ‘light and sound show’ at the tomb that morning, the awesomeness of the event would have been a distraction. So, there is something powerfully moving in the simple, undramatic account written by John. When Jesus spoke her name, Mary immediately recognised his voice and cried out to him. On hearing him speak her name, all her disillusionment, disappointment and grief dissolved into joy and faith and peace. It is an encounter with, and a relationship with, the person of Jesus that makes all the difference.
The essence of Christianity is not about following a religion but about the person, Jesus Christ, and about having a living and intimate relationship with that person.
3. The Power
Despite the relatively low key nature of the resurrection of Jesus, there was incredible power released when Jesus rose from the dead. Many people today don’t believe that Jesus did rise from the dead:
- Some repeat the old argument that the Romans removed his body from the tomb.
- Others say that his body is probably still lying in some undiscovered grave.
- Others say that instead of dying on the cross, he only fainted and then revived in the cool damp air of the tomb from which he then escaped.
- Muslims claim that he didn’t die on the cross and therefore was not resurrected. The Koran says that the Jews claimed, ‘“Indeed, we have killed the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, the messenger of Allah.” And they did not kill him, nor did they crucify him; but [another] was made to resemble him to them’ (Surah 4:157). In other words Jesus was substituted on the cross.
It is amazing the lengths to which unbelievers will go to deny the miracle of the resurrection. But the unambiguous declaration of the New Testament is ‘He’s alive.’ In Mark’s gospel we read about the angel who said to the women who visited the tomb, ‘Don’t be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here’ (Mark 16:6).
The release of God’s power not only rolled the stone away, but more especially, it resurrected the body of the Saviour who was crucified for us. That power was huge. Leonard Ravenhill has written, ‘In the New Testament the standard miracle, the standard of God’s power, is the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.’ He then goes on to say, ‘Calvary expresses the love of God. The resurrection explains the power of God.’
The penalty for sin is seen in the cross; the power of God over sin is seen in the empty tomb. The victim has become the victor! And what transformed a woman, overpowered by hopelessness, into a bold witness for Christ? Nothing less than an encounter with the Lord who had been raised to life by the power of God.
In his letter to the Ephesians Paul writes about God’s ‘… incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead’ (Eph. 1:19-20). First Paul uses a word for power from which we get our word ‘dynamite.’ Then he compares it to God’s ‘mighty strength, which he exerted’; this phrase may be translated literally as, ‘the energy of the force of his might.’
Resurrection power is dynamic, it is full of energy, it is forceful and it is mighty. Paul used all the words he could think of to describe the very greatness of resurrection power. Death had to yield to it. The grave had to open to it. The crucified Jesus, who had been placed in the tomb, stepped out of it as the Lord of life.
When preaching the first Christian sermon, Peter proclaimed, ‘God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact’ (Acts 2:32). And then a couple of chapters later we read, ‘With great power (i.e. dynamic power) the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all’ (Acts 4:33).
Paul says in Ephesians that that same resurrection power is ‘for us who believe.’ Paul is saying that that mighty power is available to us and for us. It is available to us as we seek to live for him and witness to him is a hostile world. And it is available for us in that we are beneficiaries of Christ’s powerful resurrection – in John 14:19 Jesus promised, ‘Because I live, you also will live.’
Mary was the first person to witness the power of the resurrection when Jesus met her and spoke her name. And she was the first person to witness to the power of the resurrection when she ran and told the disciples that Jesus was alive.
4. The Peace
In John 20 verse 19 we read that on the evening of Easter Day, the disciples were hiding behind locked doors. We can understand why. Just a few days earlier the Jewish leaders had managed to arrest and execute Jesus. Emboldened by this success, it would have been tempting for them to do the same to Jesus’ followers. As yet the disciples only had Mary Magdalene’s word that she had actually seen Jesus and that he was alive.
Then, without any advance notice, Jesus stood among them and his first words to them, in verse 19, were, ‘Peace be with you.’ That was the typical greeting that was given in those days – shalom lachem. Jesus didn’t rebuke his disciples for their cowardice when they deserted him after his arrest. He didn’t chastise them for not believing his promise that he would rise again from the dead. Instead he gave them a greeting of peace. But this was more than a greeting. He repeated the words ‘Peace be with you’ an additional two times, first in verses 21 and, a week later, he appeared to them again when Thomas was present, verse 26. He wanted all of his disciples to grasp the fact that the gift of peace, which he had promised them before his crucifixion, was now a reality.
The last word the disciples heard from Jesus just before he died was ‘It is finished.’ How fitting it was, then, that the first word they heard from him when he was raised to life was ‘Shalom’ – ‘peace’. Wholeness. Completeness. Relationship with God. That was what Jesus wanted them to grasp. Peace in all its glorious meaning was now available to them.
In today’s chaotic and confused world, peace seems to be an illusion. Each year peace seems to slip further away. Each week some new horror on the international stage snatches peace away from us. Each day the stress of living in a corrupt society crushes the possibility of peace. That is why we need to hear Jesus’ Easter day message to his disciples – ‘Peace be with you.’ The threefold repetition of the message was clearly intended to penetrate their sometimes dull minds. Following the events on Good Friday it seemed to the disciples that any hope of ‘shalom’, of wholeness in life, had gone forever. Evil had won. Good had been destroyed.
But on Easter Sunday, when Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you’, he was saying that the peace he had promised them before his crucifixion was now a reality into they could enter.
The gift of God’s peace was offered to humankind because of the triumph of Christ over death. If ever the resurrection message of peace needs to be heard, it is today. 2000 years after the risen Jesus first spoke those words, his message is still vitally relevant and urgently needed.
At the Last Supper Jesus had said to his disciples, ‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid’ (John 14:27). Christ does not put a barrier around us to isolate us from stress and pressures and problems of life, but he promises his profound peace that the world can never give nor take away.
It is a peace which is independent of outward circumstances. It is a gift of God that he gives through the risen Christ. As Paul says in Romans 5:1, ‘Since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.’ Such peace is a resurrection gift to those who believe.
5. The Promise
John finishes this section of his gospel which is about the resurrection, with the words, ‘These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name’ (John 20:31).
The resurrection vindicated the cross. By itself the cross stood as a symbol of defeat, but, because of the resurrection, the cross and the empty tomb together stood as a symbol of triumph – victory over Satan, over hell, over death, over the systems of the world that have ever stood opposed God. Easter testifies to a power struggle that Jesus won!
This week I read a news item that said: ‘Coles promises Easter shoppers 24,000 extra checkouts.’ Let me tell you something even more wonderful – God’s Easter promises to all humankind are spectacular in comparison!
I list four of those promises without unpacking them too much…
(i) The assurance of atonement:
‘Atonement’ is none of those biblical words that most Christians don’t really know the meaning of. The word is used 102 times in the Old Testament and 5 times in the New Testament. Atonement stands at the very heart of the biblical message. It isn’t really a hard word to understand. Let me explain it …
The Hebrew word means ‘to cover’; it also means ‘to reconcile.’ And in relation to our sin both meanings come together. Because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, God has covered our sin and looks on it no more, and he has brought us into a loving relationship with himself. Once we were separated from God; now we are at one with him. Atonement means ‘at-one-ment.’ And we know this to be true because the resurrection of Jesus affirmed our reconciliation with God. Hallelujah! What a Saviour.
(ii) The defeat of death:
Another resurrection promise is that humankind’s dreaded enemy, death, has been defeated! The resurrection of Jesus brings this hope and comfort to us – There is life after death for those who trust in him.
Paul writes, ‘By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also’ (1 Corinthians 6:14). And before his death Jesus made this promise to his disciples, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die’ (John 11: 25-26).
Death has been defeated by Christ’s victory over the grave.
(iii) The prepared place:
The resurrection confirms the promise that Jesus had made to his disciples that all who trust in Christ will spend eternity with him. He had said to them, ‘In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you.’
Because of the resurrection, we know that that promise is true.
(iv) The confidence in Christ’s return:
For hundreds of years Christians have made the declaration – ‘Christ has died; Christ has risen; Christ will come again.’ The hinge of this three-fold affirmation is the fact that Christ has risen. The resurrection vindicated the death of Christ and the resurrection points to the return of Christ.
The hope of Christ’s glorious return is dependent on his wondrous resurrection. The return of Christ is the next major event on God’s calendar!
He’s alive! He’s alive and I’m forgiven. Heaven’s gates are open wide.
Dr Jim McClure, author of several books and Bible study series, welcomes questions from Christians seeking enlightenment on biblical perspectives. His new book, Looking for Answers in a Confusing World, has just been released and is available in electronic version in EPUB, Kindle and PDF formats with hyperlinks and offered free. offered free. Link for orders and questions: firstname.lastname@example.org